ANN ARBOR - Brandon Harrison chopped off his long hair and switched from strong safety to linebacker last week.
That second move, bumping down to linebacker in Michigan's nickel package, changed everything for the Wolverines' defense.
After working all last week at outside linebacker, the senior Harrison played there and had five tackles and a sack (his first) in UM's 29-6 triumph over Minnesota. What's more, a defense that had been dominated all year by spread offenses completely shut down the Gophers' spread attack and limited it to just two field goals and 188 total yards.
The Wolverines play another spread team Saturday in Northwestern, and it's hard to imagine Harrison not lining up at linebacker considering how well last week's experiment went.
"I think it gives us another skill position, like a faster player or something like that down in the box," said Harrison, a Dayton native."I can go out [and] cover the receiver or come back in the core.I think the coaches really did a good job with that, with this defensive package."
Harrison has already set a career high and is second on the team with 63 tackles. He was credited with his 10th start this season at strong safety last week but was clearly lined up near the line of scrimmage (replacing senior linebacker John Thompson) and Charles Stewart played opposite Steve Brown at safety.
"When you're in a spread what's considered a linebacker?" UM coach Rich Rodriguez said.
"Is a linebacker a guy in the box or is a linebacker a guy who's out moving in space? When you play a spread team, that guy's out in space, whatever that position is. I don't get into whether it's considered a linebacker or whatever."
Whatever you call Harrison's new position, expect him to play there against the Wildcats and probably at least some next week against Ohio State.
And another haircut could be in order.
"We win the O-State game, I'll go bald, shave it off," Harrison said.
SHERIDAN STARTS: Rodriguez said Nick Sheridan would start at quarterback Saturday even though he expects Steven Threet to be available to play.
Threet did not practice last week or play against Minnesota because of a concussion suffered in a 48-42 loss to Purdue but has practiced the last two days in a green (limited contact) jersey.
With Threet out last week, Sheridan played the game of his life with 18 completions for 203 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers.
Rodriguez said Sheridan is starting not because of that performance but because he has practiced more than Threet the last two weeks.
"I want to make sure Steve is ready to go completely, not only from a health standpoint but also from a concept standpoint," Rodriguez said. "Both of them have played well in their last starts, so it's not an issue of one guy's playing better than the other."
The Wolverines' third quarterback, freshman Justin Feagin, will continue his role as a change-of-pace runner, but Rodriguez said he "tweaked a finger" on his throwing hand Tuesday.
Rodriguez said running back Brandon Minor (shoulder, ribs, wrist) definitely won't start against Northwestern and is doubtful to play at all. Freshmen Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie figure to fill in for Minor.
Rodriguez said Shaw has battled a nagging groin pull for about two months, and McGuffie missed the Purdue game with a concussion.
John Ferrara will make his third consecutive start at left guard, but Tim McAvoy is expected to play as well.
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